Sunday, January 30, 2011

Works in Progress

So much to tell and seemingly little time to tell it. However, all the artists are now underway with their work for the Houston Permitting Center. I'll be posting more. At least, that is the hope. Here are a few photos of some of the artists at work. Everyone is heading for an April 15 deadline, which is when the AIA will have its annual gala in the lobby space of the building. I suspect that guests will have access to the entire building that evening, so the work needs to be done in time for this first public viewing.
Visited Dean Ruck's big red barn studio today and photographed Dean and Dan's latest finds from their foray to Spectrum Metal Recycling. Folks dispose of the most beautiful, wonderful stuff. Sure looks like treasure.
Here's a first look at where the two are headed with this giant wall piece that will be installed at the top of the ramp entrance into the Green Building Resource Center in the main lobby area of the building.
Interesting to see how they work. I guess artists just work this way. Stuff goes up on the wall, assembled bit by bit and you begin to get a feel for the piece, the direction it is taking and what may be important, or on reflection, not important to the work at all. Off it comes, up goes more. Takes time to think about it, then return to the piece. I probably won't recognize the piece in a couple of weeks when I go back to take more photos of this work in progress. However, I can see already that this is sure going to be a 'piece of work'.
Visited Jesse Sifuentes in his studio at Texas Southern University days ago. He's got his canvases stretched and began to paint on the larger of the two. Jesse is using the iconic images he's used in murals before. Magnolia trees, house roofs, downtown Houston skyline. He'll paint four magnolia trees in this new work, a reminder of that early community known as Magnolia Park, first settled in 1890 near the Houston ship channel by John T. Brady. It is reported that the original Magnolia Park had 3500 magnolia trees and was a magnet for picnics and bayou boating.
Magnolia Park is now a largely Mexican American neighborhood in Houston's East End. I doubt, in these busy times, that anyone has counted its magnolia trees recently. But it's nice to know that Jesse is painting a mural that represents an early slice of Houston's history. Jesse was a student of John Biggers and I think you will see a bit of Bigger's influence as the mural develops.
More photos of works in progress soon.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Civic Art: A Morning Before Houston City Council

Good morning Mayor Parker, members of city council, and Houstonians here at city hall today.

This year, I have the privilege of participating in a unique civic art project. Unique because civic art has never been created for the City of Houston in quite the way it’s happening now.

In this project, twelve artists, representatives from the city, the architects and the building contractor are working collaboratively. We are all in the loop, all dealing directly with a very public space and with our city’s aspirations to make the Houston Permitting Center at 1002 Washington Ave. a model of sustainability and an example of the city’s green philosophy.

Nine months ago, I was selected by the city and Houston Arts Alliance to serve as lead artist on the building team for this project.

My instructions were clear. Select a team of artists who will create art that is urban and dynamic, that reflects the cultural diversity of this great city. Make sure that the art reveals the work that goes on inside the building and reflects the city’s engagement with green building practices, recycling and reuse. Plan on art that will engage the public and invite their participatio. And by the way, stay on budget and finish the work on time.

So why is civic art important in a public facility like the Houston Permitting Center?

It’s important because thousands of folks will have business in that building and the art there will be integral to the way the building functions. The art will tout the city’s commitment to ‘green’ and will celebrate and mirror Houston’s diversity. This civic art will give back to every person who enters or works in the building.

On a broader level, civic art helps define who we are and what we aspire to. It can embody civic pride and give us a sense of place in very complicated urban space.

Complicated urban space is like a big pot of soup, perhaps a soup with flavors hard to pin down. Add some salt and now, you’ve got something. Really good.

Civic art is like salt. Think about it.

Thank you very much.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dick Wray's Tower and Towering Life

We got the phone call a few miles east of Marathon, just after we'd watched a couple of tumbleweeds blow across the highway and after we'd stashed a half dozen tumbleweeds in the back of the Subaru. We were laughing and loving the notion of tumbleweeds cavorting down the open road.
And then my iPhone rang. The call was coming from Beth's phone and it was CeCe. Our connection was bad and I heard CeCe say that Dick died and that it had been magical.
A magical time, she repeated, because Dick Wray died early Sunday morning in the middle of a thunder storm. Dick Wray died in a clap of thunder after a thunderous life. Fitting. Perfect. That man was strong, even in death. Beth was there to say, "I love you," in their little piece of heaven.
Last week, I heard Beth say to Dick, "You promised a great ride and you gave me a greater one than I could have imagined." So he did.
Dick's life and his paintings jump right out and grab you. Both loaded with high octane energy, humor and a sly take on life itself.
Dick completed the civic art design for the four story elevator tower for 1002 Washington Avenue. We've got his maquette, his drawings, his in-put on materials and installation. But he's not going to be around to see this enormous piece fabricated or installed. Now will he be able to simply revel in the finished work. But Houston will have a Dick Wray. That piece of work will be 'one tall tower'. Tower, phallus, whatever. It'll be Dick Wray.
As for tumbleweeds? Aren't we all a lot like them? Just tumbling down a highway and sooner or later, we each take that last tumble? And maybe some of us will leave a tower behind?